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A visitor from the future pays homage to today's free-to-play games
A visitor from the future pays homage to today's free-to-play games Exclusive GDMag Exclusive
April 12, 2013 | By Matthew Wasteland & Magnus Underland

April 12, 2013 | By Matthew Wasteland & Magnus Underland
More: GD Mag, Design, GD Mag Exclusive

In the future, food costs nothing -- and we have free-to-play games to thank. Read this rare account from a time traveler who gives us massive spoilers from the year 2113. (This is the Arrested Development humor column in the April issue of Game Developer magazine, and not an actual account from the future...or is it?)


Hey, anybody know what year it is? 2013, you say? Praise Pincus, I made it! Huh, it looks different than it does in the holo-museum. Hey, I know what you're thinking: "This guy is just some kook and not actually a time traveler" - but it's true, I swear!

I'm from the year A.P. 50 (that's, uh, 2113 to you). And I've come back to thank you, because this is where it all began - right here in this humble little video game studio. You may not yet realize it, but this very team is on the verge of solving humanity's greatest problem!

Free to eat

Okay, who said hunger? Ha ha, you people are real jokers. No, I mean leveraging user engagement to scale multiple revenue streams, obviously. In the future, we live in a utopian society without scarcity. It started with free-to-play games, but that was just the beginning.

Every product, every service, everything anyone could ever want is free to use! Take that muffin on your desk. I bet you paid for that, didn't you, you past-dwelling rube? Well in 2113, if you want a muffin, you just go up to any FOUD™ Vendotron and take anything you want!

Now of course, for free, you don't get much of a choice of what's in the muffin. The Basic version doesn't list the ingredients and it isn't really, um, classified as food. That's okay though, the Rand Act of 2039 ensured that GOVERNMENT REGULATION (roll your eyes, everyone) doesn't apply to free goods, or anything else.

Anyway, you've got your free muffin and you're enjoying it, but it seems a little bland, huh? You want to upgrade it a bit - well, that's simple! Just fire up your sosh... oh, sorry, your "social," I guess is the term for you, ha ha. Tell all your frienollowers about the muffin and how awesome it is. If any of them also get a muffin with an upgrade in the next five minutes, you get a free upgrade yourself! Plug that muffin back into the Vendotron and select "Upgrade." After the bit of "Ode to Joy" and fireworks, presto, your muffin is brimming with succulent rehydrated blueberries!

It's so easy to share with your friends

Any schoolchild knows that stuff, though. Let me tell you how it is for working professionals like us. You're driving to work - well that's wasted unproductive time, isn't it? In the future, you could be earning FOUDcash™ simply by watching a few ads on your Gapple™ Glasses while you drive. Some people even stream two different ads at once, one to each eye. It's not like you actually have to pay attention though - ha ha! What a great way to earn free stuff, huh?

If you really want the FOUDcash to stream in, though, you have to make impressions on the people around you. Online impressions work pretty well - you post something on TwitrBookk+, like, "Gotta get my Stubbs™ Coffee this morning! No other brand will do! #stubbs #coffee #delicious" and every one of your friends who uplikevotes your comment gets a FOUDcoin, and you get one too. If you have a lot of frienollowers it really adds up!

Augmented social reality

The latest thing, though, is real-life impressions. Mention a product by name in person to someone else and your Gapple Glasses will detect the brand name being mentioned! As long as you say at least one positive thing about it, you'll get another bit of FOUDcash.

And if you say THREE positive things, you'll go on a RepStreak - earning DOUBLE POINTS for the next 30 minutes! I know a couple folks who actually wake up every half hour in the middle of the night to call a friend to shout brand names at to keep their Streak going. Their loyalty is really inspiring!

And it's not just food. This morning I bet you showered with water that you had to pay for. Ha! It's amazing to me that people once lived this way. In the future, showering is also completely free. You get 100 seconds of water, and if you talk about showering on TwitrBookk+, mentioning your shampoo brand and everything, you'll get more time and might even be upgraded to the premium experience!

And more...

Well, looks like my time is running out. Too bad - I haven't even told you about how people can use RepStreaks to earn free Doritos yet, or how Britney Spears is the prime minister of France! Anyway, I should have been able to make enough impressions about muffins to get back home. See ya! #jumpin #oldskool #backin2013 #timetravel #pastpeopledressweird

Matthew Wasteland writes about games and game development on his blog, Magical Wasteland ( Email him at mwasteland at gdmag dot com. Magnus Underland writes about games and other topics at Email him at magnus dot underland at gmail dot com.

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Game Designer


Bryant Cannon
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[Insert "MOTHER OF GOD" meme]

Shea Rutsatz
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I know I'm unfamiliar with this column/author... but what was the point of this?

Benjamin Quintero
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Satire based in reality. Its usually the kind of column that makes you chuckle until you realize that we are not far from the humorous commentary.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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Britney Spears is alive 100 years in the future?

I think its what gave you away...

Nick Harris
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Isn't it obvious, that when nature created the perfect woman geneticists would use her as the template for all future PR sensitive jobs. The transition from kid's TV show presenter, to pop star, to movie star, to gawp-at-me celebrity train wreck, to prime minister of France is all about getting ordinary folk to like you.

Look at Silvio Berlusconi for a similar politician / sex pot / party freek.

Kenneth Blaney
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@Nick of course means to comment on the quality of Clontek cloning services. Like this comment and get 1 free Clontek hat for use with your next clone. #ClontekIsTheBest

Joao Bernardes
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@Shea: If you have to ask... It's a humor column/author that often satirizes themes that are being discussed a lot in our community, often by taking these themes to absurdity (which sometimes can, in a funny way, end up criticizing both sides of the argument).

Kevin Nolan
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Making some rather humourless observations:

- The traveller's society does have currency - that's what all those upvotes and points are. Presumably that's all part of the joke, what with the traveller talking about 'FOUDcash'.

- If the future really is without hunger and assuming no similar horrible thing has come up to replace it in severity, the traveller is right, it is a much better place. Oh, sure, not to us reading this website, but to the millions starving in the real world, having to eat bland food and watch adverts in exchange for not dying in agony sounds pretty peachy. All hail freemium!

- It's interesting that the traveller's culture is entirely advert and friend-driven while real world freemium games, while certainly including those, are microtransaction-driven. Is that part of the joke? Really, our real world is closer to free to play games than his in that microtransactions and grinding (ie. paying for stuff and having a job) make the world go round.

Benjamin Quintero
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The irony being that vendotrons dispense free food but are well known to cause heart disease, cancer, and chronic diarrhea. But its free! Welcome to the future of inorganic synthetic edibles.

Rob Graeber
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I think this article is forgetting how F2P works, the small % of whales that pay subsidize everyone else.

Enjoy, the free disease causing muffin would be free, the blueberry muffin is $10, and the ultra premium deluxe muffin that doesn't cause heart disease is $100.

Kenneth Blaney
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"it isn't really, um, classified as food"

So maybe if we are okay with most people eating non-food items (cardboard, sand, dirt, twigs) so they won't technically be hungry, we could cure world hunger here and now. If they eat enough of those thing their hunger will be solved forever.

Virgile Delporte
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What a fun & satirical article to start the day, thanks!
One could argue that this could have been written a few years ago though, especially after Chris Anderson wrote his book "Free - The Future of a Radical Price". The freemium model has become pervasive in the software business (including game middleware): looking forward to seeing how it does with the fast food / vending machine market :)

Edison Henrique andreassy
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One of the point is that all free stuff is not really free, you have to work (harder maybe) to earn it.

Andreas Ahlborn
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In 1969 Philip K. Dick wrote the concept of a systopian world which is featured in one of his most disturbing novels: "Ubik"
There he also pre-conceived the concept of earning money with the simple act of consuming ads.
Seems freemiumality is not far away from that.